The Sava River is inarguably one of the most important waterways in Europe. The second largest tributary of the Danube River, the Sava benefits more than eight million people who live in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Herzegovna and Albania. The largest alluvial floodplains and complex of lowland forests can be found here. Such an important waterway is quite naturally a desirable asset for many constituencies, including farmers and agriculture producers, municipalities, energy producers, recreationists, and environmentalists.

Balancing Strategic Interests

One of the most pressing threats to the integrity of the Sava River Basin is the long-term hydropower strategic plan, which envisions construction of more than 580 dams, as well as, considerable dredging and waterway construction to alleviate any impacts from flooding and climate change. Fortunately, Europe has good policies in place that require planners to take into consideration the ecological implication of any development efforts. However, the challenge remains—how do disparate groups come together to develop a use plan that will speak to the needs of everyone?

The most recent Sava River Basin strategic planning session yielded many positive results. Most importantly, it was agreed that it does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. It is possible to protect the vast environmental gifts of the Sava River Basin, while at the same time addressing the priorities of hydro-energy production and climate change. For instance, developing floodplains not only protect communities but it also serves to restore wetlands, prevent soil degradation and create healthier habitats for ecological biodiversity. Planners began to see the importance of working with nature—to exploit hydropower potential and protect environmental resources simultaneously.

The Sava River Basin project will benefit from an existing EU strategy that emphasizes collaborative planning and allocation of resources to address a diverse body of interests, from tourism, environmentalism, energy production to agriculture.